EU pursues France over GM crop moratorium

Brussels insists GM permits should be granted, despite EU consensus on suspending new releases

The European Commission is pushing ahead with legal action against France for failing to authorise genetically modified organisms (GMOs) which have been given the political green light at EU level - despite the EU's current de facto ban on new GMO permits. The Commission announced today that it planned to send Paris a reasoned opinion (final warning) over its refusal to give written consent for the placing on the market of two varieties of GM oilseed rape. The first warning went out last October after France had imposed a two-year moratorium on the crops, which it fears might cross-breed with wild varieties to create "super weeds" (ENDS Daily 7 October 1998).

Since then, a majority of EU states, meeting in the EU Council of Ministers in Luxembourg, have signed up to one of two unofficial agreements to postpone any further EU GMO authorisations until the current directive has been revised with clearer and stricter procedures (ENDS Daily 25 June).

But Commission spokesman Peter Jørgensen, who announced the latest infringement cases today, said there was no contradiction in pursuing the case against France. Acknowledging that there had been a "clear message from Luxembourg" that there would be no new authorisations in the near future, Mr Jørgensen said that this did not allow countries to go against approvals that had already been agreed. "Once the Community decision has been taken, member states must act," he said.

Although consent for marketing the two GMOs was agreed at EU level in 1997, they cannot be officially authorised in the EU before getting written authorisation from France, the country which requested EU approval for the products in the first place.

The Commission also announced today that it would send a second reasoned opinion to France over its failure to respond to a number of other requests for GMO authorisation. Under the current directive, a member state has 90 days after receiving a request to either write back explaining to the company why authorisation would not be granted, or to write to the Commission recommending the GMO for EU approval.

In a related development, the Commission announced that it would apply to the European Court of Justice against Luxembourg over its failure to transpose a technical adaptation to the GMO deliberate release directive. Although Luxembourg has sent its draft legislation to Brussels, it has not included a firm timetable for its adoption, according to the Commission. The deadline for transposition was the end of July last year. As the European Court of Justice has already found against Luxembourg on this matter (Case C-339/97 of 16 July 1998), the Commission is now pursuing action that could ultimately lead to a fine under the so-called Article 228 procedure.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. References: Press notices on the three cases are available from the Commission on Rapid.

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